The pregnancy was uneventful until my water broke prematurely. Kaitlin Grace (Katie) was born by c-section to minimize trauma to her 1 pound 12 oz. body. She was perfectly formed in miniature. Her arms and legs were about as long as my fingers. I looked into her eyes and felt a power surge of love.
Two days later, the doctor told us Katie suffered a brain bleed; her organs were failing; she was in pain and there was nothing they could do to stop it. He recommended that we disconnect her from the machines. It was an agonizing decision. Our whole family took turns holding and loving Katie as she gradually let go of this life. When the nurses carried her body away, I felt a curtain of darkness descend.
Dan stayed at the hospital with me until I was released. When he opened the car door to take me home, I noticed an empty peanut shell stuck under the windshield wiper. The irony cut like a knife. I was angry and surprised as we drove home. It looked like the rest of the world was going on as if nothing had happened when our whole world had been turned upside down.
Family and friends were totally supportive, but had no idea what we were going through. Some tried to comfort us by saying God needed a little angel. Others said we could have another baby. The thought that God gave us Katie, then arbitrarily took her away made me feel sadder and angrier. The idea that another child could replace her hurt even more.
Physical pain from the c-section was a welcome distraction from the emotional pain. I was off work for two months. Tears rolled down my cheeks the first day back. A coworker said, "Haven’t you gotten over that yet?" I felt ashamed for being out of control.
Dan and I received an invitation to a support group meeting for parents who had lost a child. We were hesitant to go, but pain overruled reluctance. We sat silently as other parents spoke and cried openly about their dead children. There was no judgment, no expectation, and no requirement to speak. Everyone had a mixture of feelings: angry, frantic, despondent, jealous, depressed, scared... We were like a battle-weary troop of soldiers in a foreign land, living minute to minute, not knowing what to expect, fighting a hopeless war against our own emotions.
What a blessing it was to discover that grieving is normal, not crazy or inappropriate, and there are no rules. It is a rollercoaster ride that may last many months or years. Sharing difficult feelings with others who can truly empathize makes all the difference. It was an overwhelming sense of relief, like exhaling after holding your breath for a long time.
Our support group had its own library. I voraciously read books written by other bereaved parents detailing their grief journeys. One recommended writing down every aspect of the tragedy chronologically from the first inkling that something was wrong until after the funeral. I hadn't slept well due to thoughts and fears bouncing around my brain. Was there something I could have done to save Katie? Writing everything down organized my thinking in order to analyze my actions. This analysis released any guilt.
We attended meetings for about a year. We hoped to find magic words that would eliminate our pain, but eventually realized there were none. The most uplifting words came from a minister: "God is weeping with you." It took a long time for that message to sink in.
It’s amazing that a tiny being who lived only two days could change life so profoundly. Although I didn’t know what to think during that awful maze of grief, I’ve had 20 years to digest it. Conclusion: time truly is the best healer. Grief takes as long as it takes.
I used to blame God for Kaitlin’s death, but eventually realized it was God/Love that inspired the dear family members, friends, and strangers who comforted us through the storm. I now look beyond a broken peanut shell to sense the whole but hidden “Peanut” … until we meet again.
B. Jane Lloyd Published 2011